With nearly 150 years’ experience of successfully supporting training and skills development across the UK and globally, City & Guilds believes in listening to learners. Our new Young Learner Advisory Team (YLAT) guide us by sharing their valuable insights and experiences with the Executive and the Board of Trustees, ensuring that we continually improve, and do all we can to ensure learners reach their full potential and make the right decisions determining their future training and career prospects.
As we know, apprenticeships are a vital component of the education spectrum, catering for a more practical, hands-on approach to further education and skills, by offering a wide range of vocational subjects. Apprenticeships also offer young people multiple entry routes into a range of careers, which can significantly alter the course of their lives for the better, by introducing them to industries that might not otherwise be accessible through traditional academic, classroom routes.
Introducing our Young Learner Advisory Team
I met with our YLAT team to find out more about their apprenticeship experience and what makes them tick. They shared the following insights with me.
First up, is Melissa Robinson, who currently leads Cisco’s social value projects across the UK and Ireland. Melissa completed a degree apprenticeship at Cisco (2019-2022) in Digital Technology Solutions, while studying at the University of Roehampton. She studied a mixture of business and technical modules, which she says, “…worked well, because we could apply each weekly learning on a daily basis at work.”
Next up is Princess Sebastiao, who is completing an apprenticeship as a marketing specialist at Cisco. Princess joined Cisco in 2019 as a degree apprentice studying Digital Technology Solutions at The University of Roehampton.
Princess says, “What I loved most about the Cisco apprenticeship was being able to rotate through different teams, every 3-6 months. As I didn’t know what I wanted to do initially, this gave me the experience I needed to determine my career path.”
Finally, it’s the turn of Tanaka Whande, currently employed as Project Manager in the highways department at global construction company, Balfour Beatty. Tanaka is currently in his final year of studying a Civil Engineering Degree Apprenticeship at the University of Brighton.
Tanaka says, “Undertaking an apprenticeship has helped me establish my career while improving my technical knowledge. As part of the YLAT team, I want to make sure that decisions impacting on apprentices also prioritize the learner’s perspective.”
Awareness and availability of apprenticeships
I asked the YLAT to reflect on barriers they faced during the apprenticeship application process and whether they think the government, or their school, could have done more to help?
Princess says: “I first learnt about apprenticeships during work experience at Sky News. I was in year 13, looking at what I wanted to do after college. Sky introduced me to the idea of an apprenticeship, but the company didn’t offer degree apprenticeships, so I did my own research and found that Cisco did. Looking back, it would have been beneficial if I could have had more contact with my school advocate for apprenticeships, but they tended to focus on students who were applying to university. We only had one external speaker to talk to us about apprenticeships, but for university applicants, there were around 15 guest speakers.”
Careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics)
The lack of easy access to careers in STEM subjects for women is an ongoing issue in Further Education and skills training generally, so I asked the YLAT to tell me more about their individual experiences.
Princess said: “I was part of the Step into STEM mentoring programme which helps females from low socio-economic backgrounds transition into STEM roles.
“I was paired with a BT employee who supported me with my personal development and provided me with work experience. She gave me valuable guidance which helped boost my apprenticeship application. If it wasn’t for her and the programme support team, I believe I’d be doing something completely different today.
“One key takeaway from this is that I’d like to see the government backing more programmes like Step into STEM and also making these programmes more easily accessible to students.”
Apprenticeship experience and career progression
I turned to the subject of apprenticeship experience and career progression and asked our YLAT members, how they have they applied the new skills from their apprenticeship experience to real life?
Melissa was first to respond. She said, “The skills I have learnt on my apprenticeship have helped me, not only professionally, but also in my day-to-day life and hobbies.
There were many soft skills I developed while studying for my degree. For example, time management is so important when you’re a degree apprentice as you’re studying, working, and trying to balance your personal life, all at the same time, and it can be overwhelming at times.”
Melissa adds: “My current role at Cisco requires me to project manage social value and I end up applying project management practices to my everyday life. I’m always thinking about how I can change a process to make it more efficient and what the implication would be, if I did something sooner or later than needed.”
I asked the YLAT whether their new skills had unlocked any opportunities that previously seemed out of reach?
Princess says: “One of the new skills I unlocked was having the courage to try completely new experiences, such as working in the competitive intelligence team as a program coordinator for 7 months. I organised team training and building sessions with external parties, oversaw payments for our contracted staff and ordered different bits of kits for the team – something I’d never imagined myself doing early in my career. This role also required me to liaise regularly with the leadership team.”
I asked the YLAT to highlight support for career development they had received from their apprenticeship employers and describe how it has positively impacted their progression?
Princess says, “Cisco provides multiple personal development initiatives for their employees, to help them grow. One initiative I took part in was career coaching, where I had access to unlimited sessions with an external career coach. This has really helped me open up about my career struggles and goals as I now have an outsider’s perspective and I’m able to be completely honest about my personal frustrations and experiences. These sessions have helped me with my confidence, project planning and generally feeling fulfilled in my role.
Another initiative that worked well for my personal development, was the executive shadowing program Cisco offers, where anyone in the organisation can apply to shadow an executive. I had the privilege of shadowing an HR director which helped me boost my confidence, especially communicating with senior colleagues in leadership roles. This experience also helped me improve my professional network.”
Apprenticeships for social mobility and inclusion
I asked the YLAT whether they think apprenticeships can help improve social mobility and inclusion and asked them to suggest steps the government, employers and providers could take to enhance inclusivity?
Melissa says, “For apprenticeships to become more inclusive, I believe the government, employers and providers should take an inclusive approach, right from the start. This should include making sure the levelling up programmes are offered to candidates who stand to benefit most from the experience, and making sure an employer’s application process is as inclusive as possible. Employers should ensure potential candidates can see examples of people like themselves already employed within a company, so that they can visualise working there.”
Finally, I asked the YLAT to provide me with one key takeaway they would like to highlight, to Government, employers, providers, or potential apprentices.
Melissa says, “Apprenticeships are a fantastic way to study and earn experience in a job to equip you well for the working world. If I could give you one key takeaway from this, it would be to utilise all the resources out there, to reveal all the opportunities you could go after! “
Tanaka says, “To ensure that the most talented individuals are incentivized to pursue an apprenticeship route, it is vital that attractive remuneration packages are developed. Apprenticeship adverts should strive to clearly indicate what apprentices can expect to earn as they progress towards finishing their apprenticeships. This will ensure talented applicants can clearly assess the benefits of undertaking an apprenticeship, compared to other educational routes.”
Championing apprenticeships in National Apprenticeship Week
In their role as YLAT, Melissa, Princess, Jarrishan and Tanaka were invited to attend the celebratory reception at the Houses of Parliament on Monday 5 February, to recognise national finalists honoured for their outstanding apprenticeship delivery and provision across the sector.
Interview with the Minister for Skills, Apprenticeships and Higher Education, Rob Halfon MP
Two YLAT members, Tanaka and Jarrishan, had an opportunity to grill Robert Halfon MP, Minister for Skills, Apprenticeships and Higher Education about his views on apprenticeships.
The minister shared what he believes to be the strongest selling point of apprenticeships: that they help people – particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds – to get onto the ladder of opportunity while also supporting the country’s wider skills needs.
Our YLAT members were interested to hear what the Government is doing to support smaller companies to take-on apprentices, as well as bridging the gap between vocational and academic routes. Because National Apprenticeship Week is being celebrated at the same time as Racial Equality Week this year, they were keen to understand what the Government is doing to make apprenticeships equal and fair for ethnic minorities. Find out what the minister had to say, by watching the interview:
Find out more about our Young Learner Advisory Team here: Young Learner Advisory Team | City & Guilds Foundation (cityandguildsfoundation.org)